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The New Data Set VET Guide to Data Skills Development


In today’s digital, connected world, the savviness with which entrepreneurs employ information and communication technologies is essential to competitiveness. However, while digital communication skills have improved across the population generally, the ability to leverage information, especially data, is still underdeveloped. This is a lost opportunity: the volume of data that business owners have access to has grown exponentially and if “big” data is turned into actionable “smart” data, it can drive productivity, innovation and growth.

The EU states that “data-driven business models are the engine of Europe’s growth, industrial transformation and job creation”, which is part of its commitment to the digitalization of the economy.

One of the benefits is that businesses responding to smart data can improve products and services, which would, in turn, generate economic growth while contributing to social progress. However, micro-enterprises and SMEs, which make up 99% of businesses, still lag in digital technologies. Micro-enterprises and SMEs must develop data skills or risk being uncompetitive if the European economy is to flourish.

Nevertheless, there is an obstacle: today’s entrepreneurship teachers and trainers also face a data skills deficit. The majority entered the workforce before big data existed and there is currently no reliable source of training to help them boost their own skills. Prior to the start of the Data set project, East Belfast Enterprise conducted a small survey across 28 Local Enterprise Agencies in the Enterprise NI Network which found that “52% of business advisors said they were completely unaware of the range of data that is available and 70% rated their own knowledge of data skills as poor.”

About the VET Guide

The objective of the Guide is to raise awareness regarding the value of data skills for current and future entrepreneurs and increase knowledge of what contemporary data skills are and how they can be taught.

The Guide presents a comprehensive introduction to the role of data skills in VET and includes the results of a data skills survey, outlining the current skills and skills deficits of business trainers and advisors in participating countries, a review of the policy environment regarding data skills for entrepreneurs and data skills education, at both EU and national and regional level and an introduction to strategies for teaching data skills to entrepreneurs, including best practice examples and testimonies.

Needs Analysis Assessment

The basis of the VET Guide is a needs assessment, which is a systematic process for determining and addressing needs, or “gaps” between current conditions and desired conditions or “wants” of a specific group. The chosen method for conducting the Data Skills Needs of Business Trainers and Advisors in Ireland, Northern Ireland/UK, Spain, Netherlands and Denmark was an Internet survey. This method was selected because it allows for a more diverse survey sample as survey link was widely shared online, it is a low-cost, fast and efficient method and the extensive networks of the partners allowed for a ready-made pool of participants.

The survey was made up of 12 short questions, it had a 100% completion rate and it was completed by 33 Business Advisors from 5 countries (Ireland, Northern Ireland/UK, Spain, Netherlands and Denmark).

Needs Analysis Survey Results

Data Skills proficiency is quite low among business advisors, with only 21% of those surveyed feeling their skills are proficient.

The acquisition of Data Skills is of great importance to business advisors. 81% of those surveyed indicated that they would be interested in receiving/accessing free training and/or practical resources that they could use to teach entrepreneurs and SME owners about applicable data skills to their businesses.

Business Advisors today favour a Hands-On approach to providing business support, therefore, our data set materials should be very practical in nature and be solution-oriented.

Five key areas were identified where business advisors need upskilling with regard to digital skills and also 5 key areas which are particularly relevant for SME’s  – these are ranked in order of importance in the table below:

Data Skills for Business Advisors Data Skills for SME’s and Business Owners
Data/Information Analysis Application of Data to solve problems/inform business ideas
Reporting Skills Communication Skills
Application of Data to solve problems/inform business ideas Data/Information Analysis
Data Collection Creative Thinking  
Technical/Digital Skills Technical/Digital Skills

The VET Guide also includes a section that goes in-depth with regard to the Policy Environment regarding Data Skills for Entrepreneurs and Data Skills Education in the UK, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark, as well as a section dedicated to Strategies for Teaching Data Skills to Entrepreneurs.

The main goals of the VET Guide to Data Skills Development are to raise awareness of the value of data skills for business advisors and entrepreneurs and approaches for the delivery of data skills training and to lay the foundation for the data set Open Education Resources, which will consist of a curriculum, trainers’ guide and suite of interactive online learning materials which will enable teachers and trainers to enhance entrepreneurs’ data skills in classroom and small group training as well as for the data set Online Course, which will consist of a multilingual, interactive learning course in which entrepreneurs at all stages of entrepreneurial activity can learn more and put data skills into practice.

More detailed information regarding the findings of the online survey is available in the VET Guide, which can be accessed in its entirety on the project website.

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